To me relationships are an investment. My time. My money. My emotions. I’m not the kind of guy to sit and chat about the weather. I want to get to know you. Your passions. Your successes. Your failures. I want to get underneath the surface and see who you really are. What can I say, I’m a designer… I practice empathy for a living.

In my 30 years of being on Earth I’ve never been in a fist-fight. Which in my opinion is a huge feat considering I spent the first portion of my life living in Stockton, CA. You know, the city that went bankrupt, and a place that you wouldn’t shouldn’t stay in, you just pass through. I’ve just never been a fighting type of guy. If my Dad’s stories growing up are any indication, I’m sure that I could hold my own.

But I don’t rage or lash out. I shut down. DEFENSE MODE ENGAGE.

For more constructive feedback try reframing opinions.

Anyway, the point is that I deal with issues a lot differently than others. When someone criticizes my work I get quiet and just process. Sometimes, it can really deflate me. I KNOW. I’m a sensy pants. But really, who likes hearing about things you suck at?

In my experience I’ve heard some very harsh comments:

Feedback like that feels like an attack on me personally because it’s rude and doesn’t show me that we are on the same team. In these cases, I find myself isolated by my own perspective, hindered from listening to feedback about my designs even though it’s absolutely necessary to create the optimal solution.

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On the flip side, great constructive criticism has been something that really drives me and inspires great design improvements. Some examples include:

Growth is straight up hard, but necessary. Constructive design feedback facilitates my growth and challenges me to push the limits with my creativity.

Creatives are emotional beings.

I think a lot of people wonder why designers are so sensitive when it comes to their work. But you’ve got to understand… it’s frustrating when you put your heart and soul into a project and someone comes along and tears it all down. And I don’t mean in the “design teardown” kinda way.

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Recently I’ve been getting too invested with my work. It’s been a huge struggle for me and it’s caused me to be a bit emotional. C’mon dude. Can one really be too invested? Yep, sure can. And I do it. All the time. It reminds me of when Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber is fantasizing while driving. He’s already in love with her, planning their life together, and she doesn’t even know his freaking name. He’s already too invested.

At some point you need to step back from your work, gain a fresh perspective, be objective, and not let the thoughtless comments or the stress get to you.

Communication tips for creative collaboration.

Here are some practical steps you can take that will help enhance your work relationships and help build trust among your team:

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Video meetings – We love seeing our clients in person, but most of them are in San Francisco or somewhere out of state. It’s easier to fully understand what they are saying, and how they are saying it when there’s a video feed.

Collaboration  When you make the effort to collaborate with your clients you are communicating that you are a part of their team and that you value their input.

Explain the “why”  Don’t just shoot off an email with the JPGs attached. Make a list of detailed notes explaining just why you made that CTA fire engine red or why you chose to massage the headline copy. (Also, see above re: video meetings).

Share early and often  Involving clients earlier in the project has been so beneficial for me. I’ve been a little hesitant to do this but clients eat it up.

Include GIFs occasionally in your emails  Everyone likes GIFs right? Okay, this isn’t a must, but I do love sending GIFs from time to time to lighten up the mood.

Practice proactive empathy.

Combatting tough situations starts with your attitude. Maintaining positivity towards each other and embracing that good design is about process, not product. Just because a client wants your design to ‘pop’ doesn’t mean they have no clue what they are talking about. Just because they push your pixels (see what I did there?) a little too far doesn’t give you the right to get all Negative Nancy.

Clients invest their money while designers invest their time – that design project is everyone’s baby. Before you have a pitch or send out an email for feedback, take a deep breath and proactively choose to be empathetic with your clients. You’ll see the bigger picture and be a whole lot happier in the end.

Have any tough client situations or comments of your own? Tell us in the comments below.